Japan Art and Chiura Obata: 1930 and the Fog of History

Japan Art and Chiura Obata: 1930 and the Fog of History

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was born in Japan during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Hence, the dynamic convulsions of this period of Japanese history shaped Obata before he emigrated to America in 1903.

The Smithsonian says, “Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was one of the most significant Japanese American artists working on the West Coast in the last century. Born in Okayama, Japan, Obata emigrated to the United States in 1903 and embarked on a seven-decade career that saw the enactment of anti-immigration laws and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.” 

All three art pieces in this article concern his World Landscape Series in 1930 during the early Showa Period. Yet Obata didn’t know the geopolitical convulsions that lay ahead: while completing this delightful art series.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco says, “Obata’s most famous work, a portfolio of extraordinary color woodblock prints titled the World Landscape Series “America” (1930), was inspired by a trip to the Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Mountains in 1927. Often monumental in composition, yet intimate in their carefully observed details, Obata’s luminous landscapes reveal his intensely personal and poetic vision of “Great Nature.” This vision was grounded in an underlying Zen philosophy of selflessness that accepts the insignificance of human affairs in relation to the timeless forces of nature.”

His American identity developed over time. However, with the influence of Murata Tanryo (1874-1940), Terazaki Kogyo (1866-1919), and Hashimoto Gaho (1835-1905) during his informative years shaping his art – it is fair to say that the series of art in this article were shaped – paradoxically – by Japan despite all three pieces of art focusing on America in this article.

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